Wednesday, June 4, 2014

24. 麦秋至: "Barley Matures"

(BGM: "Fields Of Gold" by Sting)

Shichijuni-kou (72 Seasons) Calendar Listing
 初夏 Shoka: "Early Summer"
Season No. 8: 小満, Shouman: 
"Grain Full" 

Shouman: the time of year when farmers can hope to see kernals forming in the "ears" of cereal crops such as wheat and barley. This sign allows them to heave a little sigh of relief, hence the term "shou-man," or "small satisfaction."

Climate No. 24: 麦秋至
Mugi Notoki Itaru
"Barley Matures"
(May 31 -June 4) 

It seems like just weeks ago when the landscape changed from lifeless brown and gray to the pulsating, energizing freshness of new green. But the sudden sight of autumnal gold and orange amidst watery fields of rice seedlings can be an unexpected shock. (Weren't we in summer a moment ago?)

Field of Ripened Barley in June Rains (Hikone, Shiga)
One afternoon while taking our daily stroll around the rice paddies of eastern Shiga, we were lucky to have a conversation with a friendly-faced and slightly bilingual farmer about Japan's grain-growing industries. He told us that barley (Jpn: mugi 麦) was a subsidised crop that he grew on occasion to condition the soil of his rice paddies. (He said he also grew it for cattle feed, since barley makes Ohmi beef especially tasty).

Barley ready for harvest (Yasu, Shiga)
In recent decades, despite its historical importance as a staple food in Japan, barley production has stalled and today the country imports more of the grain than it grows. What is grown is used primarily for feed and beverages, including mugicha (麦茶, barley tea), shochu (焼酎, a distilled alcoholic beverage) and the national favorite: beer -something that tastes just perfect on a hot summer night!

It was fun to imagine what that particular field of barley was destined to become. We asked but the farmer wouldn't tell us. Sometimes, it's good to be left hanging. It teaches patience. He did practice his English with me a little bit, and his desire to communicate was somehow enough. I don't need to know everything.

Bird Of The Season: イソヒヨドリ, Isohiyodori, Blue Rock Thrush

Male Blue Rock Thrush (Source: Wikipedia, a Public Domain Image)
Down here in the Chugoku region, there's a sweet little bird with an incredibly big voice. Strikingly similar to a robin in size, coloring and vocal ability, the blue rock thrush (Monticola solitarius) sits on rooftops, rocky outcrops and seawalls, crooning its soulful melody at dawn, dusk and between the rains. Its song is teasing, lilting and slightly feminine. Whenever I hear one belting out a ditty on my neighbor's old TV antenna, I can't help but stop what I'm doing, pull up a chair and just relish the aural experience.

Male blue rock thrushes are particularly loud this time of the year, as if the rains are putting the pressure on them to hurry up with finding a partner -and competition's fierce. I always see them standing by themselves, spaced yards apart from one another, chirping lonesome and friendless on the same stretch of seawall. Perhaps their loner reputation explains their name solitarius. Despite their tendency towards self-isolation, I'm always rooting for them; they're much too charming to lose out on the race to procreate. For now, their numbers aren't in any danger of extinction. May this continue to be the case for generations to come.

Flower Of The Season: 葵, Aoi, Hollyhock 

A natural hollyhock "fence" edges a parking lot in Miyoshi, Hiroshima.
"All day in gray rain
   The hollyhocks follow
     The sun's invisible road."    -Matsuo Basho 

Red giant complete with starburst in the center (Sera, Hiroshima).

Used in family crests and seals as a symbol of the Tokugawa Shogunate, and heralded today in Kyoto's Aoi Matsuri (Hollyhock Festival) this overloaded physical impossibility of a flower is a symbol of power and strength. Though some might disagree, more than hydrangeas, the hollyhock (Alcea rocacea) is the quintessential sundial (or clock, if you will) of the rainy season.

Hollyhocks bolt up quicker than lightning right after the last yaezakura cherry trees have finished blooming. By the time the rainy season begins, the flowers have already bloomed half-way up their towering 5-foot stalks. When the rains subside and the sultry, unforgiving heat of late summer kicks in, the blossoms are already on their way out, dropping off limp and spent like deflated balloons released of their air.

As Basho seemed to imply in his haiku, hollyhocks look as if they just don't give a darn about the rain, or anything else for that matter. Running on their own time, they keep right on track and stay focused on a sun they can't see -a perfect example of concentration and dilligence. And of course, this means yet another lesson for me: if I believe that I'm doing all I can in this moment, keeping my eyes locked on my goal (but making definite action in the present towards that goal), good things will come of it, surely.

 Hollyhock being tickled by an inch-long bumble bee (Miyoshi, Hiroshima)
Copyright 2014 Genkilee, Gen. All rights reserved. No part of this blog (written or photo content) may be reproduced or reprinted without the expressed permission of the author.

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